Sri Lanka is experiencing a multidimensional crisis, compounded by food insecurity, threatened livelihoods, shortage of essential medical items and rising protection concerns.
The significant reduction in agricultural production in Sri Lanka, compounded by the rising prices of fuel and basic food items, have made food unaffordable for a segment of the population, and the government has forecasted food shortages during the next months. Hospitals in the country report shortages of essential medicines and other health items, while frequent power outages affect the delivery of health services.
Negative coping mechanisms are threatening the loss of livelihoods, and an observed rise in violence raises protection concerns. An estimated 5.7 million people are in need (PIN) of humanitarian assistance in 25 districts across the country. Of those, the Humanitarian Needs and Priorities plan aims to reach 1.7 million people, requiring $47.2 million in humanitarian funding.
Persistent fiscal deficits, a significant tax reduction package in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic has meant Sri Lanka’s public debt burden has quickly become unsustainable1 2 , while sharp reductions in foreign exchange receipts have combined with food and energy price shocks in early 2022 to result in a debt and balance-of-payments crisis. In March 2022, the Government had to declare daily electricity cuts due to the unavailability of imported fuel needed for power generation. Surveys3 conducted show that about 11 per cent of households reported that income has stopped, and 62 per cent said that their income has reduced, which in turn has significantly reduced their capacity to afford nutritious foods.
In April 2021, the import of chemical fertilizers was banned without adequate preparation and farmer training and with little or no availability of organic fertilizer. While the ban was lifted in November 2021, the decision has had a disastrous impact on productivity and production in the recently concluded 2021/22 Maha season4 , which has suffered an estimated 40-50 per cent reduction5 . The decline in production is likely to continue up to the next cultivation during the Yala season. 6 Due to the increased costs of production -up to double for paddy crops- only a small percentage of farmers have worked their lands for the Yala cultivation. It is estimated that only 24 per cent of the usually worked land –or 128,652 out of 524,778 hectares- has been cultivated for the upcoming season. Thus, the current yield is not sufficient to cover domestic requirements.
This is worsened by the widespread shortage of key imported commodities such as wheat flour, canned fish, milk powder and lentils, which, when available, are priced exorbitantly. Prices of most commodities have increased considerably since the end of 2021, with food prices as measured by the Colombo Consumer Price Index increasing 57.4 per cent over the year to May 2022, up from 10.0 per cent for the equivalent period in September 2021. As a result, families have started to resort to eating less preferred or less expensive foods daily and limiting the portion sizes of meals.